SEATTLE — Easter not only celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but it’s also a time when non-Catholics join the Church and fallen-away Catholics often return to the practice of their faith.
Catholics in the Dioceses of Green Bay, Wis., and Seattle are expecting greater numbers than ever this Easter as a result of Catholics Come Home television ad campaigns that ran in their dioceses over Lent. They became the latest in a string of dioceses that have run the innovative ad campaign that invites fallen-away Catholics and non-Catholics to the Church.
The Roswell, Ga.-based nonprofit founded by former advertising executive Tom Peterson ran its first ad campaign in the Diocese of Phoenix in January 1999. Statisticians with Arizona State University estimated that as a result of the initial campaign, there was a 12% increase in Mass attendance, and some 92,000 people came back to the Church.
Since then, numerous dioceses have utilized Catholics Come Home’s captivating television ads in conjunction with the Catholics Come Home website to attract fallen-away Catholics, teach non-Catholics, and answer questions that those who are already Catholic might have about the faith. The ads have even aired in Poland.
Eight dioceses ran Catholics Come Home television ad campaigns over Advent and into January 2010. They included the Dioceses of Colorado Springs, Colo., Joliet, Ill., Lincoln, Neb., Providence, R.I., Rockford, Ill., and Sacramento, Calif., and the Archdioceses of Chicago and Omaha, Neb. In the Dioceses of Joliet and Rockford and the Archdiocese of Chicago, nearly 2,000 ads were aired on 10 television stations in three languages over five and a half weeks.
The campaigns are entirely grassroots efforts, started by the laity in each diocese. Money is raised by those within diocesan parishes and is then pooled together to purchase advertising for intense local campaigns.
In Seattle, for example, the coordinators had hoped to raise $400,000 to run the ads. In the end, they raised more than $550,000.
Data is just beginning to be tabulated regarding the campaign’s effectiveness in the dioceses that ran campaigns over Advent and into the beginning of the new year.
According to Michael Cieslak, director of research for the Diocese of Rockford, the campaign led to a confirmed 10.5% increase in Mass attendance in the Rockford and northern Illinois region.
Even more impressive than the statistics are the stories. There was, for example, the man with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
“After seeing the ads on television, he asked to go to church, but the family didn’t take his request seriously,” said Nancy Polacek, who coordinated the campaign for the Archdiocese of Chicago. “The disease had progressed to the point that he no longer recognized his family members who cared for him and his speech was limited.”
Yet, after he made several requests, the family began making plans to bring the elderly gentleman to Mass.
“The family was surprised to see that the father was able to say the responses and prayers,” said Polacek. “As they helped their elderly father to the front of the church to receive holy Communion, they saw tears of joy in his eyes.”
Peterson described the target market as ripe for evangelization.
“Twenty-four percent of the U.S. is baptized Catholic, but only one-third practices,” said Peterson. “That means that only 8% are practicing Catholics. That means a 92% target market of those people who do not know the teachings of Jesus or the sacramental Church as he gave them to us.”
The television ads include a variety: “Epic,” an ad that shares the history and contributions of the Catholic Church; “Movie,” which imitates the movie of a person’s life and triggers viewers to return to the sacrament of reconciliation, and many testimonial ads of real people who share their stories of how they drifted away from the Church and what brought them back.
Peterson says that a number of additional dioceses plan to air the ads in the not-too-distant future. They include Atlanta, Bismarck, N.D., Boston, Charlotte, N.C., Santa Fe/Albuquerque, N.M., and Venice/Naples, Fla. Peterson added that ultimately he hopes to air the ads during national television programs such as “American Idol,” “Monday Night Football,” and possibly even the Super Bowl.
“The good news is that God is delivering results,” said Peterson. “People are coming back to the Church for an investment of about $2 per soul. That’s an incredible return on investment.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.